Unit 1 Bargaining Bulletin #3

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Bargaining Bulletin #3

In an effort to ensure a fair and reasonable collective agreement for Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants in lieu, the CUPE 3906 Unit 1 Bargaining Team has announced that it will be holding a strike vote beginning on October 17th.

“Our proposals are necessary, reasonable, and within the university’s means,” said Chris Fairweather, CUPE 3906 President. “While strike action is a last resort, the university has been unwilling to make any meaningful movement on the priorities needed to ensure that graduate and undergraduate teaching and research assistants are in a position to succeed as students and workers,” he added.

In May 2022, faced with once-in-a-generation inflation in the cost of living and stagnant wages and funding packages, TAs and RAs ratified a package of bargaining priorities based on feedback contained in a survey of the membership and identified financial security and compensation, mental/physical health and wellness, and improved working conditions as their top priorities.

The university did not meet with the bargaining team until the last week of August, just one week before the Collective Agreement expired. During that week of bargaining, CUPE was informed that the university did not have a “mandate” from the Board of Governors, and so our Collective Agreement expired without us being able to negotiate wages, benefits, or any of our other substantive proposals. 

The bargaining team met with the university again three times between September 26 and October 3, 2022, and while the parties have agreed to some small improvements with respect to working conditions, major priorities of financial security and mental/physical health and wellness remain unaddressed. After having finally arrived with a ‘mandate,’ the university is offering far less than the current rate of inflation and is proposing to sustain the large pay gap between graduate and undergraduate TAs. “This is unacceptable for a group of workers who saw real wages decline over the past three years due to the province’s Bill 124. The university’s proposal will only push us further behind,” stated Fairweather.

While the university has agreed to include language around a new reproductive health fund, they are not offering any new money for benefits with which to pay for it, and is suggesting that in order to fund benefits increases the union will have to accept even lower pay increases. The university is unwilling to agree to tuition reimbursement language, leaving us vulnerable to having what little pay increases they are offering swallowed up by future tuition increases, and also unwilling to extend employment guarantee periods to reflect the actual average time it takes to complete our programs.

With this sizable gap between what the university is offering and what Teaching Assistants and Research-Assistants-in-lieu deserve, the elected Bargaining Team has made the difficult decision to call for a strike vote. More details are forthcoming, but the Bargaining Team is asking all members to vote yes and demonstrate their ongoing support for our bargaining priorities at the table.

“Not only are the things we’re asking for reasonable, they exist at other comparable universities in Ontario, and they are well within McMaster’s means to provide. The university is wealthy, and has only grown wealthier over the course of the pandemic” noted Fairweather. According to the university’s financial statements, McMaster brought in $232 million in “excess revenues” in 2020-2021 alone. Meanwhile, Teaching Assistants are falling further and further behind as the cost of basic necessities, like rent and groceries, skyrocket. A strong strike mandate will show the university that Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants (in lieu) are behind their union, and that they are willing to take job action, if necessary, to secure a fair collective agreement.

 

Bargaining Bulletin #2

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On September 26, Teaching Assistants will head back to the table with McMaster for the first time in a month. We expect to meet several times over the next two weeks, with Postdoctoral Fellows slated to return to the table on October 5 and 6. Expect more updates soon, but in the meantime, it’s worth recapping where we’re at so far.

What are we asking for?

What is the university’s response?

Wage increases that help TA’s and Postdocs get ahead, rather than falling further behind. 

No response.

Enhanced and expanded benefits, including reproductive health funds and leaves. 

No response.

Protections against future tuition increases in the form of a reimbursement, like they have at U of Ottawa and Carleton.

No response.

Equal pay for equal work for Undergraduate TA’s.

No response.

Expanded TA training program, offering more paid opportunities to further enhance teaching excellence.

No response.

Extended work guarantees for graduate students, like they have at U of Toronto, York, and Carleton.

No.

A modest, portable retirement savings program for Postdocs, like they have at Waterloo, TMU, and Ontario Tech U.

No. 35 years old on average is “too young” to be worried about that.”

McMaster’s Institutional Priorities and Strategic Framework lists “inclusive excellence,” “teaching and learning,” and “research and scholarship” among its top priorities. The university aspires to “be the go-to place for world-class researchers,” but the minimum salary for Postdoctoral Fellows is just $36,200/year. Every year, world-class researchers are actually being lost to other universities or to the private sector, while McMaster sits on its hands and refuses to talk about Postdoc compensation.

McMaster is also home to over 2,600 Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants-in-lieu, almost all of whom are graduate or undergraduate students. Our work is essential to the functioning of the university, and despite this, many of us struggle to cover basic needs like rent, groceries, and utilities. After we pay our tuition, which is a defacto condition of employment for most TAs, graduate TA’s are left earning roughly $16-19/hour, depending on our programs. Undergraduate TA’s earn approximately 40% less than graduate TA’s, for no good reason, aside from offering the university a source of discounted labour. There is also nothing to prevent future tuition increases from further eroding TA income on top of the damage already being done by once-in-a-generation inflation.

Everything that we’re asking for is about helping McMaster live up to its vision of “inclusive excellence” by making the university a better place to work and study. But we need your help. Every pay period that goes by without new Collective Agreements, essential academic workers at McMaster fall further and further behind the rising cost of living.

Please send a message of support to our bargaining teams. Share this update and your support for our priorities on social media with the hashtag #bettermac. We’re also calling on all members of the union to join the Bargaining Support Committee to organize and rally support behind our bargaining teams. If you haven’t done so yet, please sign the open letter calling on the university to Raise the Floor on graduate funding as well.

Our work is valuable. We deserve so much better than this.

Unit 2 Members Have Ratified a New Collective Agreement

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The votes have been tallied, and Unit 2 members have voted to ratify the CUPE 3906 Unit 2 Tentative Agreement (dated July 18, 2022). The new agreement will be in effect once the McMaster Board of Governors also ratifies the Tentative Agreement at its next meeting (October 27, 2022).

The Bargaining Team would like to extend its sincere appreciation for your support throughout these difficult negotiations. The unwillingness of the employer to even talk to the union about job security without the threat of a strike underscores the importance of solidarity as we continue to fight for a Better Mac.

Bargaining Bulletin #1

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On May 6th, CUPE 3906 served McMaster University with notice to bargain for Teaching Assistants (Unit 1) and Postdoctoral Fellows (Unit 3), whose Collective Agreements are set to expire on August 31. After three and a half months of waiting, the university finally joined us at the bargaining table for four days of bargaining shared between both units.

On August 24th, the university’s bargaining team informed us that they were not prepared to bargain anything pertaining to money because the Board of Governors failed to give them a mandate. Usually, this mandate would be given well in advance and would offer the university’s bargaining team a sense of what kinds of changes the university is willing to make–and crucially, how much the university is willing to spend–to renew our Collective Agreements.

The union and the university have made good progress on some non-monetary items, such as updating gender pronouns and common language in the agreements, clarifying members’ rights to take pregnancy leave in the event of a still birth or miscarriage and parental leaves for adoptions, clarifying members’ rights to participate in safety planning in situations of domestic and sexual violence, and adding a TA Training article to the Unit 1 Agreement. But with the university unable (or unwilling) to negotiate things like wages, benefits enhancements, extended graduate funding guarantees and protections against future tuition increases for Teaching Assistants, or workload issues and retirement security for Postdocs, we find ourselves in the shocking position of arriving at an impasse on key issues after just four days.

We are calling on the relevant bodies at the university to meet and confirm a bargaining mandate immediately. We are also calling for that mandate to include:

  • Large enough pay increases to compensate for the alarming rise in the cost of living that workers are experiencing across Ontario;

  • Funding guarantees for graduate students that reflect how long our programs actually take;

  • A progressive and inclusive benefits package that allows every TA and Postdoc to take care of themselves and do their best work, including leaves and funds for reproductive health;

  • Protections from future tuition increases that could otherwise cut into our wages and put us even further behind, especially for international student workers; and

  • Allow Postdoctoral Fellows to address overwork in a meaningful way and to begin to save for retirement.

Our Collective Agreements expire today, so it is crucial that the university acts immediately. For this reason, the union’s bargaining teams have filed for conciliation, requesting that the government appoint an external mediator who can hopefully facilitate productive discussions when we return to the table.

Sessional Faculty Strike Deadline Set for July 22

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Sessional Faculty Strike Deadline Set for July 22

On June 27, the University’s negotiators requested that the Ministry of Labour start the countdown to a legal strike or lockout position after the Unit 2 Bargaining Team refused to accept the University’s latest proposal of a two-year, 1% per year agreement with no improvements to job security. It is not clear whether McMaster plans to lock Sessionals out, but because they’ve set this process in motion the Collective Agreement will have no legal effect as of Friday, July 22 unless a tentative agreement can be reached. This would mean continuing to work without the protection of the union, without access to the grievance procedure, and with no guarantee of ongoing access to benefits or anything else established by our Collective Agreement. In response, the Unit 2 Bargaining Team has had no choice but to a set a strike deadline of Friday, July 22. The Team has indicated to the employer its desire to continue to bargain, but based on the results of the strike vote and the many months of consultation with members about their priorities, the deal on the table now is simply unacceptable.

Unless a tentative agreement can be reached, Sessionals will be on strike as of July 22. Anyone continuing to work will be scabbing. “Scabbing” means performing work usually done by a striking worker. Scabbing does serious damage to the labour movement. It undermines the union’s ability to secure a strong Collective Agreement. Scabs will not have the protection of the union during a strike, and they could face sanctions by the union once a strike is resolved.

The Strike Committee has begun canvassing members for their availability for picket duties and is in the process of scheduling a town hall meeting where we can all come together to learn what’s at stake, ask questions, and voice our concerns. Please continue to monitor your inboxes for that information. In the meantime, please take a look at our Strike FAQ for more information. If you would like to get involved in planning the strike, please reach out to strikecochairs@cupe3906.org.

Members may want to begin discussing with their students the potential impacts a strike may have on them. To that end, members should review the University’s policy on the Rights and Responsibilities of Undergraduate Students During Work Stoppages That Substantially Disrupt Academic Activities. Members may also want to talk to full-time faculty in their departments about their right to refuse to perform struck work. Teaching Assistants and Postdocs may also be asked to scab in the event of a strike. As fellow members of CUPE 3906, their Collective Agreements protect them from being forced to perform struck work and the union expects them to respect Sessionals’ right to strike by refusing to scab.

Please consider sending a letter to the University to show your support for Sessionals.

Unit 2- Bargaining Bulletin #7 (June 28, 2022)

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The Unit 2 Bargaining Team met with the Employer on June 13th and June 17th, aided by a provincially appointed conciliator. The Union has made considerable movement in an effort to secure a fair and reasonable agreement for our members. The employer, however, tabled a set of proposals that failed to address any of the key priorities identified by the membership and are unwilling to discuss improvements to job security or the creation of a retirement security plan.

The Employer’s “settlement offer” was a 2-year agreement and contained increases of only 1% to the base rate in each year and no meaningful improvements to job or retirement security. The union’s extremely modest proposal to create joint committees where we could at least discuss the issues of job and retirement security have also been ignored. The offer expired on June 27th at 4 p.m. Because the Employer’s so-called settlement offer failed to address any of the major issues identified by the membership, the Union’s elected bargaining team notified the Employer that we would not be accepting that offer.

On June 28th, the Employer informed us that it has requested a ‘No Board Report’ from the conciliator. This is a legal process required under the Labour Relations Act in order to start a countdown toward a work stoppage. As such, the Union has every reason to believe that the employer will lock out union members by mid-to-late July (the exact date of a lockout remains TBA – a lockout can begin 17 days after the issuance of the conciliator’s ‘No Board Report,’ and the conciliator has five days to issue the report after being requested to do so). Furthermore, on the day a strike or lockout can begin, the Collective Agreement is no longer in force and the employer can unilaterally change the terms under which we work, whether or not job action occurs, leaving Sessionals in a vulnerable position.

The Union has been clear and reasonable in our demands throughout the ten months that we have bargained. The membership deserves a fair increase to wages (especially in light of rapidly rising inflation), improvements to job security language, and access to retirement security. In support of these proposals, a record-setting number of Sessionals voted 85% in favour of strike action if needed. We believe that a fair and reasonable settlement can still be negotiated and have worked tirelessly in good-faith to secure a fair agreement, but the Employer has responded only with ‘no’ and now looks poised to lock out Sessional Faculty in the middle of summer.

The Union is hoping to continue to bargain with the Employer, with the assistance of the provincially appointed mediator, in July, but in the interim we need to prepare for job action should negotiations fail to lead to any meaningful gains for the membership.

As part of our ongoing strike preparations, the Union is running an important “Picket Captain Training” workshop on June 30th from 1-4 p.m. at the CUPE National Office at 21 King St. West in Hamilton. Members voted overwhelmingly to engage in job action if needed, and it looks like it may become necessary. If you are interested in attending the Picket Captain training session, or in joining the Strike Committee, please e-mail our Mobilizer, Walter, at mobilizer@cupe3906.org.

Picket Captain Training

Brad WalchukUncategorized

Picket Captain Training will happen on June 30 from 1-4pm at the CUPE Hamilton Area Office downtown (21 King St W). A safe and effective picket at McMaster will require a strong roster of well-trained Picket Captains.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Chris at president@cupe3906.org

 

Unit 2 Strike Prep Bulletin

Brad WalchukUncategorized

Dear Sessional Faculty,

Your Bargaining Team will resume bargaining on Monday, June 13, with the help of a government-appointed mediator, in hopes of reaching a negotiated settlement to avoid a strike or lockout. As you know, the union and the university are still very far apart when it comes to a number of priorities, including fair wages, job security, retirement security, and training. Following the 85% strike mandate given to the Unit 2 Bargaining Team, strike preparations are well under way. This email contains two important updates related to strike preparations.

Strike Committee – June 17 at 1pm (Zoom)

The union has formed its Strike Committee and elected Unit 2 member, Simon Orpana, as its Chair. The next meeting will be held virtually over the Zoom platform on Friday, June 17, beginning at 1pm. At this meeting, we will pull together all of the existing strike materials as we work through CUPE’s Strike Preparation program. We will need to find volunteers to serve in various capacities on the Strike Committee, and make important decisions about picket line locations and times, approved picket duties, the location of an off-campus strike office, and so on. All Unit 2 members are encouraged to attend and participate; so long as you taught at some point in the 2021-2022 academic year or you have a contract in hand to teach next year, you have an interest in the outcome of this round of bargaining. Please email Simon at strikecochairs@cupe3906.org if you plan to attend the meeting, or if you can’t attend but want to be kept in the loop for future Strike Committee activities.

Picket Captain Training – June 30 at 1pm (In-person)

The union has organized Picket Captain Training, which will take place on June 30 from 1-4pm. This training will happen in person at the CUPE Hamilton Area Office downtown (21 King St W, Hamilton). Picket Captains are responsible for maintaining safe and effective picket lines. A well-trained roster of Picket Captains will be vital to the success of a strike, should one become necessary. If you are willing to serve as a Picket Captain and you would like to attend this training in person, please RSVP to me in writing and I’ll get back to you with more information. If you are interested in serving as a Picket Captain, but you are unable to attend the training in person on June 30, please let me know and we’ll see what alternative arrangements can be made. More training sessions may be made available if necessary.

I know this round of bargaining has been tremendously stressful, and I want to thank you for your continued patience and support. A union is only ever as strong as its members are willing to work together and fight for a better workplace. Please email me if you have questions or concerns.

In solidarity,

Chris (he/him)
President, CUPE 3906

Unit 2 Sessional Faculty vote in favour of strike action

Brad WalchukUncategorized

Hamilton, ON – 13 May 2022 – The front-line instructors responsible for a significant proportion of undergraduate teaching at McMaster University have concluded a strike vote after three days of online voting.  Sessional Faculty and Hourly-Rated Sessional Music Faculty at McMaster University, comprising CUPE Local 3906 (Unit 2), voted 85% in favour of providing their Bargaining Committee with a strong strike mandate should negotiations the table with the McMaster Administration fail. 

The Local witnessed a record number of members participating in the vote between May 10th and 12th, held online due to pandemic safety measures. “The bargaining team is grateful that a record number of members demonstrated such strong support for the Union’s proposals on the table,” says Chris Fairweather, the Local’s President. This strong mandate speaks to the sky-high inflation rates faced by members, the increasingly precarious nature of employment at postsecondary institutions, and the compensation restrictions imposed on public sector workers by the Ford government’s ‘Bill 124’ legislation. At the same time, the Employer refuses even to discuss options for retirement security and improved job security for members, many of whom have spent decades working at McMaster.

This 85% strike mandate highlights the Employer’s need to take members’ concerns to heart immediately or face job action.  The Employer must work with the Union to find ways to improve job security to support Sessionals in continuing to provide the high quality teaching excellence on which McMaster prides itself as one of Canada’s top-ranked employers.  “We have also seen the Employer issue significant pay increases to upper management and administration over the past few years,” says Fairweather. “Now that we are coming out of our mandatory wage-restriction period, our members – who often juggle multiple jobs – deserve wages gains that address the realities of inflation and keep pace with a rising cost of living in the spirt of respect, equity, and inclusion,” he adds.

The results of this vote do not mean that a strike is forthcoming, but empower the bargaining team to call a strike should further negotiations not provide meaningful gains to members. The employer walked away from our last meeting on April 27th after one hour of bargaining, declared an impasse, and filed for conciliation. The next step in the bargaining process is conciliation, in which a Provincially-appointed conciliator will meet with the parties.

Local 3906 is eager to put the support of its members into action at the bargaining table and is committed to membership engagement throughout the process. Please watch for further updates and additional bargaining support initiatives.

CUPE Local 3906 (Unit 2) represents over 600 Sessional Faculty and Hourly Rated Sessional Music Faculty at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario each academic year.

Contacts: 

Chris Fairweather, President – president@cupe3906.org

Brad Walchuk, Staff Representative- brad@cupe3906.org

A PDF version can be found here: https://bettermac.ca/files/2022/05/CUPE-3906-strike-vote-release-final-2022.pdf

Unit 2- Bargaining Bulletin #6 (May 5, 2022)

Brad WalchukUncategorized

Your bargaining team met with the Employer’s team on April 27th. Unfortunately, that session lasted for less than 1 hour. Your bargaining team tabled a fair and reasonable package that continued to emphasize your key priorities. In particular, this includes improved job security and meaningful wage increases. We also made considerable movement on some priorities; for example, we are now proposing a working group to meet on retirement security over the next four years instead of proposing an immediate pension.

The Employer has no interest in expanding our job security, no interest in any sort of retirement security, and no interest in a wage increase that comes anywhere close to the rapidly rising cost of inflation. Despite making some movement to present a focused offer that addresses your major priorities, the Employer believes that we have reached an impasse in bargaining and decided to walk away from the virtual bargaining table and file for conciliation. Quite simply, the Employer does not want to bargain with us any longer, which is a shame, because we are committed to continuing to work toward a fair and equitable settlement.

“Conciliation” occurs when one or both Parties believe that they have reached an impasse and require assistance reaching an agreement from a government-appointed Conciliation Officer. A Conciliation Officer helps the parties try to work through the impasse and reach a settlement, but they cannot force the Parties to come to an agreement or make decisions about what proposals will form the Collective Agreement. The Parties are required to participate in Conciliation prior to either party triggering a strike or lockout.

In order to be successful at conciliation, it is unwise for the Union to enter Conciliation without a successful, strong strike vote.  The only way to make any movement on our key priorities at this point is with a demonstration of the members’ support through a successful strike vote. A conciliation officer will help the parties to work to a fair resolution, but they – and the Employer – need to know that the membership is behind their bargaining team. That is why the Union is calling for a strike vote.

A strike vote does not mean that our Union is going on strike. It is, however, the bargaining team is asking you for your support to call a strike in the event that talks with the Employer break down at the bargaining table. We believe that a strike vote will give us the added leverage that we need to secure a fair collective agreement. A strike would only occur if the talks break down and the bargaining team determines that the Employer is unwilling to provide a fair offer.

What is a stake? A lot! Below is a chart outlining some of the key priorities that remain on the table. Based on the results of the bargaining survey, you directed your bargaining team to secure meaningful wage increases, make improvements to job security, and explore options for retirement security. Despite meeting with the employer on 14 occasions since last summer, the Employer is unwilling to put forward a package that addresses your priorities in any substantive way.

 

Issue Your Union’s Position  The Employer’s Position
Wages Year 1 and 2- 1% per year

Year 3 and 4- 5% per year

Year 1 and 2- 1%

Year 3- 3%

Job Security- First Consideration Increase 4 automatic appointments to 6 automatic appointments during Enhanced First Consideration Phase No Improvements to Job Security
Job Security- Right of First Refusal Introduction of an ongoing right of first refusal following completion of Standard and Enhanced First Consideration No Improvements to Job Security
Job Security- PhD Appointments Limit of 2 PhD appointments without posting per department No Improvements to Current Language
Retirement Security Introduction of a Committee to discuss options for retirement security options over the duration of the agreement Unwilling to discuss options for retirement security with the Union
Large Class Stipend Yearly increase from $2.00 per student per unit to $2.25/$2.50/$3.50/$4.50 per student per unit, make it available to all sessionals Status Quo of $2.00 per student per unit, available only to some sessionals
Training Fund Training fund beginning at $5,000 per year, increasing to $15,000 per year in 2024 Unwilling to agree to continuing finance the training fund
Term/Duration 4 Years (2021 to 2025) 3 years (2021 to 2024)

As a result, your Union is calling for a strike vote. The strike vote meeting will occur at a virtual meeting being held online via Zoom on Tuesday, May 10th at 2 p.m. The vote itself will occur online after the meeting (beginning at 4 p.m.) and will continue until 11:55 p.m. on Thursday May 12th. All eligible members will be sent a registration link for the Zoom meeting as well as an electronic ballot via Election Runner for the strike vote.

We encourage members to vote “YES” in the strike vote to send the Employer a strong message. It is the best way to secure a fair and reasonable agreement that provides you with the gains that you deserve!